Bill to seize federal land in Alaska nears vote on state house floor

Rep. Mike Chenault. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)
Rep. Mike Chenault. (Photo by Skip Gray/Gavel Alaska)

A bill with the goal of seizing federal land is now one step away from a vote on the House floor.

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House Speaker Mike Chenault introduced the bill after President Barack Obama announced his intention to permanently ban drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“I’m not afraid of a fight, and I’m not afraid of doing what I think is right,” Chenault said.

The intent of the bill is to take the 5.5 million acres of land owed to Alaska from the Alaska Statehood Act, and then some. At a hearing in the House Finance committee on Monday, Anchorage Democrat Les Gara questioned whether such legislation would stand.

“This bill takes away 168 million acres, way more than what’s owed to us,” Gara said. “The legislative legal memo that’s been given to your office says the bill is ‘unconstitutional.’ I’ve still looked and not found a single provision of the federal Constitution that allows us to take land from the federal government.”

Gara pointed out that a similar bill that passed in Utah is estimated to cost the state $2 million in litigation, and that former-Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer – a conservative Republican – vetoed such legislation because she did not believe it could be enforced.

The state adminstration is unsure whether Alaska would benefit if the legislation could be enforced. A memo from the Department of Natural Resources noted it could increase Alaska’s oil, gas, and mineral holdings. But another analysis also found that the cost of managing more acreage could be “significant,” and that the state could also receive contaminated lands as a result.

The bill moved out of House Finance committee with support from all but one Republican. The committee did remove a provision that would have included national parks, like Denali, in the seizure.